Mystery Worshipper: Cherokee
Church: St Mary’s
Location: Swansea, Wales
Date of visit: Sunday, 17 December 2006, 9:30am
The Collegiate and Parish Church of St Mary is a large city centre church, stone-built and spacious. There is a chapel behind the altar that is used by other faith groups. At the back of the church is the modern millennium stained glass window and some more stained glass in the chancel, about which more later. The decor is quite plain but attractive. There was a small Christmas tree by the altar with small white lights to match those from the ceiling.
The Orthodox Community of Saints Zacharia and Elizabeth and a German Lutheran congregation use the church. The clergy work with ministers in the hospital and the university. There is a Mothers Union and a Ladies' Guild as well as groups of volunteers who care for, among others, housebound parishioners.
The centre of the city is being rebuilt for the second time since it was destroyed during the war. Immediately opposite the church gate is the entrance to a large shopping mall, and in fact all the surrounding buildings are shops.
The service was led by the vicar and team rector, the Revd Andrew Vessey, assisted by the curate, the Revd Kenneth Padley, who also led the intercessions. The sermon was preached by Robert Leonard, a reader.
What was the name of the service?Choral Eucharist.
How full was the building?
There were about 60 people and I would guess that this was only about one-third of the church's capacity.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were greeted immediately by a sideswoman who gave us our hymn book and service sheets and explained what each was. Several people said hello as they took their seats.
Was your pew comfortable?
There were no pews; instead there were shaped wooden chairs, which were very comfortable. There was plenty of leg room and space to kneel.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As we arrived, the choir was finishing a rehearsal. As the church filled up there was quiet conversation, but one could easily become absorbed in one's own thoughts without being distracted by noise.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to our service." The rector then went on at some length to give the notices, so the start of the service was a bit disjointed.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Common Praise, the church's own order of service for the communion, and the parish news sheet, which contained the collects, Old and New Testament readings and the gospel (as well as parish news).
What musical instruments were played?
Organ only. It was played loudly and confidently with some magnificent chords.
Did anything distract you?
Just in front of us and to our left, so not quite in our line of sight, there was a window and we could not decide what was on it. After the service, we discovered that it is a memorial to the local soldiers who died in the Falklands War. It was a modern design incorporating a map of the islands, lines of latitude and abstract designs. If it had been in our full line of sight it would have been an even bigger distraction!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very formal, quite stuffy. The traditional words of the liturgy were used. There did not seem to be any liveliness or joy in the worship.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The preacher read from his notes and did not vary his pace or delivery. It was a bit like lectures used to be at university.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
John said to the crowd, "You brood of vipers!" We should see this as a challenge, as John knew that the most important person ever was about to appear. In Advent we should be thanking God for this gift and preparing us for the coming of Jesus the eternal guest and host. John said Jesus would baptize with fire, liberating the spirit of God's word. John baptized with water to free people from sin and prepare them for Jesus. God frees us all from what is hindering us so we can live according to his laws.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
While I was waiting to take my place at the communion rail, the choir was singing an anthem and the sun was casting the colours of a stained glass window onto the wall opposite. Together they created an ethereal effect.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The very pedestrian nature of the service. There was no obvious joy and one felt nothing could be spontaneous.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As soon as we made to leave our pew, we were invited to stay for coffee. On the way down the aisle we were again engaged in lengthy conversation, as we were several times more as we had our tea, including by the rector. We were overwhelmed by everybody's friendliness.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We had tea. It was hot and plentiful. Coffee and juice were also available, but we could not see where they came from. There were biscuits and, being near Christmas, two delicious varieties of mince pies. Nobody could leave there hungry!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – Though I do not like happy clappy services, this was at the other extreme and I would prefer something more towards the middle, like we have at my local church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not particularly. Nothing touched me specially, though I always enjoy singing hymns to the accompaniment of a well played organ!
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The Falklands Memorial window.